Blatter calls racism row 'closed'
FIFA president Sepp Blatter reckons he has apologized enough for his recent comments on racism that triggered a furor and considers the matter “closed.”
“I can only say this item for me is closed,” Blatter told a news conference at the Asian Football Confederation’s headquarters in Malaysia on Wednesday. “There is no tolerance (of) racism.”
Blatter had expressed regret last week for the furor caused by his claim that racist abuse does not exist on the football field and that any racial incidents could be settled by a handshake between players at the end of a match.
“I have been interpreted as such and I have made my apologies,” Blatter said Wednesday. “I cannot say anything more.”
Blatter went on the defensive when asked about the suggestion by Neil Warnock, manager of Premier League club Queens Park Rangers, that black players around the world should boycott their next international matches as a protest against Blatter.
Blatter’s initial comments were ridiculed in Britain, where Prime Minister David Cameron joined a wave of condemnation, David Beckham described the Blatter statements “appalling” and a top official urged Blatter to resign.
Any comments that appear to diminish racism would hit a nerve in Britain, where authorities are now investigating allegations that Liverpool striker Luis Suarez and Chelsea defender John Terry racially abused black players during Premier League games.
Blatter has already conceded he used “unfortunate words” in TV interviews last week.
On Wednesday, he reiterated “there is no discrimination in my feelings, there is no racism, nothing at all.”
“This matter for me is over. We go forward,” he said.
“There is zero tolerance (for) racism, zero tolerance (for) discrimination in all activities in the field of play and outside the field.”
Blatter said he was not surprised by the British media’s strong criticism of him and calls for him to stand down as head of football’s world governing body, but added that he was “very much hurt by these comments because it touched me in my conscience and my determination to go against racism.”
The 75-year-old Swiss, who had ruled out the possibility of resignation, has experienced a troubling year despite being re-elected to another four-year term in June.
FIFA has been caught up in a corruption scandal that resulted in a life ban from football for former FIFA presidential candidate Mohamed bin Hammam, the then head of the Asian Football Confederation. Blatter was re-elected unopposed after the Qatari was forced to withdraw due to allegations he tried to bribe Caribbean officials to vote for him.
Bin Hammam has appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Asked whether he believes the door is closed to bin Hammam’s return, Blatter said it is up to the appeals process.
“We will wait for the outcome of the next step,” Blatter said on his first trip to AFC headquarters since Bin Hammam’s ban.
In his opening remarks at the news conference in Kuala Lumpur, Blatter did not mention bin Hammam by name, but praised the AFC’s current leadership for standing united. The AFC had agreed to follow procedure on filling bin Hammam’s position despite the now exiled president wanting the position to remain vacant pending the outcome of the appeal process.
China’s Zhang Jilong, the AFC’s senior vice-president, has stepped in as the interim president. If bin Hammam’s appeals aren’t resolved by May 29 next year, the AFC will be bound by its own laws to elect a new leader.
On another issue, Blatter declined to take a clear stance on renewed calls from Asia to allow the use of Islamic headscarves for female players. FIFA banned the Islamic scarf in 2007 citing safety concerns.
Blatter said the issue could be handled by the International Football Association Board, which determines the rules of the game.
Leaders and sports officials in Islamic countries have criticized the ban, saying it discourages women from playing football. Iran’s team forfeited a 2012 Olympic women’s qualifier against Jordan in June because the players refused to play without the hijabs.
The AFC said in a statement that its women’s committee was seeking a review of the rule in light of new equipment in the marketplace.